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Fridolf Johnson papers

Identifier: MSS 0298

Scope and Contents

The Fridolf Johnson Papers consist of ten linear feet of material related to Johnson’s career as a printer, calligrapher, and writer, spanning the dates 1950 to 1985, reflecting Johnson’s interest in lettering, italic handwriting, and the fine and graphic arts. It includes prolific correspondence, photographs, greeting cards, broadsides, prospectuses, printing ephemera, keepsakes, books, serials, clippings, articles, pamphlets, programs, exhibition announcements, catalogs, and bookplates.

The collection is organized in three series: Series I Subject Files, Series II Miscellaneous, and Series III Printed Ephemera. The first series, a compilation of subject files created by Johnson and arranged in alphabetical order, consists of information on particular people and topics. This series represents one of the collection’s strengths, as it contains a vast amount of material on prominent graphic artists, printers, and typographers with whom Johnson worked or corresponded. Included in his archive are the names Albert Schiller, Eric Gill, John Lehman, Rudolph Ruzicka, Paul Bennett, Warren Chappell, Frederick Goudy, and Joseph Weiler. Johnson also accumulated extensive material on private presses and their operators, such as Charles Antin of Serendipity Press, John Anderson of Pickering Press, and John Lehman of Katydid Press. These folders contain correspondence to and from Johnson offering business advice or aesthetic opinions, suggestions for projects, clippings and articles, photographs, broadsides, prospectuses, and print specimens.

While active in the printing community, Johnson preserved profuse records on the Typophiles, Junkateers, New York Chappel, and Zamorano Club. (These include three files of photographs documenting Junkateer field trips.) Johnson also amassed a wealth of information while researching his articles; he preserved this material in his archives, frequently along with copies of the essays he wrote. These topics range from the artists William Morris, Donald Jackson, Roy Lindstrom, and Rockwell Kent to the history of bookplates. (The William Morris file includes a holograph signature by Jane Morris.) This first series also contains material on artists Walter Kuhn and Frank DeGioia, wood engraver Paul Forster, and illustrator Tom Cleland. Many of these files include photographs of the artist’s work or, in the case of Forster, actual prints. Johnson maintained several folders related to calligraphy and calligraphic organizations as well. These consist of newsletters, exhibition announcements, requests for Johnson’s own work, examples of calligraphy, and material on Jim Hayes and Oscar Ogg.

The second series is Johnson’s miscellaneous compilation of printed material. These folders contain catalogs, exhibition announcements, invitations, keepsakes, serials, and some of Johnson’s personal correspondence. The last series is composed of three subsections devoted exclusively to printed ephemera. The first subseries is a large collection of private press ephemera such as keepsakes, print specimens, advertisements, and prospectuses which Johnson acquired throughout the years. The second subseries contains keepsakes from Oxford University Press and the third contains several issues of The Minotaur, a serial published in California in the 1960s.


  • Creation: 1950-1985
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1960-1985


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections, University of Delaware Library,

Biographical / Historical

Author, illustrator and calligrapher Fridolf Johnson (1905–1988) studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and then remained in Illinois for nine years as art director for the Frankel-Rose Agency. He moved to California in 1942, free-lancing in San Francisco and operating Contempo Art Service in Hollywood. After ten years on the West Coast, Johnson left for New York in 1952 where he worked as a designer and professional calligrapher.

From the 1950s into the 1960s, Johnson became increasingly interested in printing and typography. He established his own private press, the Mermaid Press, and became an active member of the Typophiles, Junkateers, Zamorano Club, and New York Chappel of Private Presses. From 1962 until 1970 Johnson was the executive editor of American Artist and contributed myriad book reviews and articles for the periodical. He wrote on topics ranging from contemporary graphic art, lithography, and printmaking to book illustrations, bookplates, and the artists Rockwell Kent and William Morris. Johnson also wrote A Treasury of Bookplates from the Renaissance to the Present, co-authored 200 Years of American Graphic Art, and edited Rockwell Kent: An Anthology of His Work. Examples of his calligraphy and print specimens can be found in the collections of several museums, galleries, and public libraries, including the New York Public Library and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Johnson resided in Woodstock, New York, until his death in July 1988.

Obituary, The New York Times, 27 July 1988. “Obituary.” American Artist. 52 (Oct 1988): 6.


10 linear foot

Language of Materials



The Fridolf Johnson Papers consist of ten linear feet of material related to Johnson’s career as a printer, calligrapher, and writer, spanning the dates 1950 to 1985, reflecting Johnson’s interest in lettering, italic handwriting, and the fine and graphic arts.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchase, November 1990.

Related Materials

MSS 0209 Frederic W. Goudy collection

MSS 0297 John DePol collection

MSS 0304 Rockwell Kent letters to David Wesley

MSS 0338 Letters from calligraphers to Sidney Feinberg and George Grady

MSS 0358 Press of A. Colish archives

MSS 0412 Russell W. Hood collection related to typography and graphic design

See also this guide to selected primary resources: Printing and the Book Arts: the History and Technology of Printing, Papermaking, Calligraphy, Typography, Fine Press, Design, and the Book Trade: Selected Primary Resources.


Boxes 1-7: Shelved in SPEC MSS record center cartons Box 8: Shelved in SPEC MSS manuscript boxes Removals: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (24 inches)

Processing Information

Processed by Kelly Baum, April 1994. Encoded by Natalie Baur, March 2010. Further encoding by Lauren Connolly, September 2015, and Tiffany Saulter, November 2015.

Finding aid for Fridolf Johnson papers
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2010 March 2
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

181 South College Avenue
Newark DE 19717-5267 USA